In many respects, Roominate, a toy that lets girls design and wire their own dollhouse, has the perfect pitch for the TV show Shark Tank: Roominate is run by two women (Bettina Chen and Alice Brooks, both Stanford engineering graduates); it has racked up over $1.7 million in sales this past year; it's about to launch into retail stores, including Toys "R" Us, Barnes & Noble, and Nordstrom; and the toy itself has a feel-good twist (engineering for girls!).
On the season premiere of Shark Tank last week, the sharks bit enthusiastically. Roominate's founders received $500,000 for 5% of their company.
As we detailed in a piece earlier this year, Roominate was born when Chen and Brooks, who met in their master's program at Stanford, started talking about the lack of other women in their program. Both women had been inspired to go into engineering because of experiences when they were younger; on Shark Tank, Brooks recounted the time as a child that she asked Santa Claus for a Barbie at Christmas and her dad gave her a saw instead.
After raising over $85,000 for Roominate on Kickstarter, the pair started selling Roominate dollhouses online. Accessories like a helicopter, circuits, a chateau, and a studio will be available soon.
So how did they end up on Shark Tank? "We both really like watching the show," says Chen. "We watched a lot of episodes, very, very carefully. The question and answer part is really important, so we were drilling each other with questions. Since we’ve had such strong sales, and because we’re so excited about the big retail placements this fall, we knew we wanted to go in and emphasize that."
They also pulled the classic Shark Tank move of handing out personalized product samples to the sharks. Mark Cuban got a Roominate version of a Mavericks court and a private helicopter, Lori Grenier got a QVC set, and Barbara Corcoran received a fancy Manhattan apartment to represent her real estate career.
Mark and Lori ended up offering the $500,000. "Our mission and our products really resonated with a lot of the sharks. The other side of it is that we have really strong traction, and they were impressed by that too," says Chen.
The Shark Tank episode was filmed earlier this summer. Since then, Chen and Brooks have been working with Mark and Lori on advertising and on getting Roominate onto QVC. "Our website stayed up after the show aired, and we got a lot of hits, a lot of orders. We don’t have exact numbers yet," says Chen.
Check out Roominate's Shark Tank pitch here.